Most of us have heard of exposure bracketing, but how about aperture bracketing or f-number bracketing? When you bracket your exposure, you take multiple shots of the same scene at different exposures — usually at -1EV, 0EV, and +1EV exposure compensation. I often find myself doing the same type of thing with my aperture. I’ll usually shoot three photos of the same scene using the aperture priority mode on the camera: one photo with a large aperture, one with a mid-range aperture, and one with a small aperture. I don’t do this with every subject, but sometimes I’m unsure of what depth of field would work best for that scene. So by varying the aperture, I can get a sample of different DOFs and choose the best one back on the computer screen. This method has saved my photos on more than one occasion — especially while doing macro work!

From left to right: f/2.8, f/11, and f/32. I kept the f/32 shot and post-processed it. You can see that post-processing at “Dandelion Dandy“.

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I find that I actually aperture bracket my shots far more often than I exposure bracket.

With RAW format, slight under- or over-exposures can be easily corrected with almost no drop in quality.

However, I find that it’s much different with aperture. You can’t correct nearly as much of it in post.

June 24, 2007 1:04 pm

I with you on this — I rarely exposure bracket, except for the times I’ve got a really high contrast scene that runs outside the dynamic range.

June 24, 2007 1:21 pm

Unlike exposure bracketing though where you can set up the camera to do just like that, in aperture bracketing, you have to do it manually. This comes hard when you’re shooting in low-light condition where you the largest aperture possible to obtain the desired shutter speed.

June 26, 2007 7:44 am

That’s true, it does have to be done manually. The amount of available light will dictate how much you can stop the lens down, and depending on the subject, a tripod is almost necessary. In the shot above, I had to shoot at 4 seconds when I stopped down to f/32.

June 26, 2007 7:51 am

It is also very helpful to use the “aperture preview” button on your camera, if you have one. Normally your lens aperture will remain fully open while looking through the viewfinder because it provides the most light and allows you to judge focus and so forth more accurately. Holding the aperture preview button closes the aperture to your selected f-stop, showing you what the DOF and everything will be like. I find it indispensable.

On my Canon, the button is located on the bottom edge of the front of the body where the lens attaches, easily pressed with my left thumb while shooting.

June 26, 2007 11:49 am

The aperture preview is a handy little feature to have, but I find that it makes things too hard to see unless you’re in very bright light — especially when stopping down to f/32 or more. But if it’s bright enough, there’s no sense in not using it!

June 26, 2007 12:44 pm


One other huge advantage of bracketing in general (at least in my limited experience) has nothing to do with the variations of exposure – it’s all about getting more usable photos from a shoot. I have done several photoshoots (portrait/glamour) with very inexperienced models and I was wasting a lot of shots – the blink at the wrong time – the fading smile – we all get those right. Well I found that once I started bracketing (usually just +/- 1/3 exposure) – I wasn’t gaining that much from the spread of exposures (since post-processing could produce similar effects anyway) – I was finding that often 1 out of the set of 3 bracket shots was far more usable. One might be spoiled by a blink but the 3rd might be perfectly fine. I was finding that mu suscess rate of usable shots increased dramatically – giving me much more choice over which ones to use. This works well for group photos too – and its probably self-evident but I rarely see it mentioned.

May 22, 2008 2:16 pm

So How DO I do this aperture bracketing? Instead of me moving the dial with my finger 3 times can I set it up to where the camera takes three continuous shots but changes the f-stop for me? I would really like to find out how- so any information would be great!

Thanks!

May 17, 2009 8:12 am

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